Sunday, September 20, 2009

Globalization and the Digital Divide

Hanson provides historical background on how ICTs have helped globalization and made it easier, faster to trade, perform financial transactions and share information. How is globalization good and bad? She gives examples on both sides of the coin. Sometimes it is beneficial to have these technologies that help globalization, but sometimes it can deter nations, especially developing nations. One issue that she brings up that I discussed on last week's blog was one of access. “Unequal acess creates new patterns of exclusion and inclusion,” she writes. From her discussion about the distribution of wealth and the digital divide, it is clear that those who do not have access to ICTs or cannot afford them or do not know how to use them are at a disadvantage. New ICTs are one of the driving forces behind the globalization and create new ways to interact in the economic realm. Increasingly, developing nations are left behind. The advancement of ICTs and globalization have aided the West's economy, for example, by outsourcing production where cheap labor exists, but as we have read, those countries that are at the bottom are not getting a slice of the pie or not a big enough slice as they need. Hanson mentions Wal-Mart as an example of a company that uses cheap labor from developing countries. Wal-Mart negotiates heavily with other countries' companies to obtain the lowest prices, to sell for low prices, but at what costs? These types of situations also have pros and cons. Some argue that the US loses jobs when US companies outsource. At the same time, the companies often argue that they are providing jobs where they are needed most, developing countries. Growing up on the border town of El Paso,TX and Juarez, Mexico, I became aware of the maquiladoras (factories) early on in my life. Mostly young women are hired by Western companies who have set up shop in Juarez. The wages are about $5 a day there, which are very low even for the cost of living there, at the same time, these girls, women, and men have very few other choices of attaining income. The business practices and ethics are questionable in many of these situations. Companies make business choices that usually revolve around their own interests and, of course, money. Social and economic development of the countries they infiltrate rarely make the agenda or if they do, it is not high on their priority list.

It seems that new ICTs contribute to the digital divide and have not been beneficial to developing nations. As mentioned, it is an issue of access and resources. They cannot afford them or they are not educated and have no idea how to best utilize them. There have been cases were ICTs are being used to try to ensure that these nations can progress and have some economic growth, as the case in India that Hanson mentions. Due to various issues, these have not been as succesful as we would hope. I find these cases very interesting because as we have discussed many countries, like Burma and Iran, are using the internet for social change and to share information globally. What is pertinent and what came to mind as I read the chapters is how globalization, ICTs, new media can be used to socially and economically develop nations who have high poverty rates, who have high HIV/AIDs rates, etc. There have been cases of organizations using cell phones to disseminate health, and other information in developing nations, but these have to be evaluation to see if they are worth the time, money and effort. These cases are new and from the readings for this and another class, it seems that there are many problems when trying to implement technological programs into communities and populations who are not accustomed to these sorts of innovations. There have been failures due to culture, exposure, education of the developing nation, but these failures will serve as lessons for the future.

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